Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Giveaway and Guest TeachingAuthor Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith

I am interrupting our series on the second of the Six Traits of Writing to present an interview with guest TeachingAuthor Cynthia Leitich Smith. We're celebrating with her today because her most recent young adult novel, Blessed (Candlewick Press), was released just YESTERDAY. At the end of the interview you can watch the book trailer and then read about how to enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy. And be sure to check out the links I've included in the Blogosphere Buzz that follows the contest information.  

Blessed is a companion novel to the New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestsellers Eternal and Tantalize (also from Candlewick Press). Cynthia's award-winning books for younger children include Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes, and Rain is Not My Indian Name (all from HarperCollins) and Holler Loudly (Dutton).

Cynthia has taught a number of writing workshops and is currently a member of the faculty at the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Her amazing website was named one of the top 10 Writer Websites by Writer's Digest and an American Library Association (ALA) Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog was listed among the top two read by the children's/YA publishing community in the SCBWI "To Market" column.

Now, without further ado, here is the interview:

Cynthia, how did you become a TeachingAuthor?
   Kathi Appelt drafted me. She's my original children's writing teacher, and I benefited greatly from taking private classes at her family ranch. From there, she asked me to guest speak at another event and then to join her in teaching a workshop. Over time, I began leading workshops, both for writing groups and out of my own home (for advanced/published participants) with my very cute husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith. In 2005, I joined the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

What's a common problem/question that your writing students have and how do you address it?
     Of late, I've been working with especially strong students. But for both beginners and the more advanced, I'd say that "talking heads"--long sessions of character dialogue without the speaker being physically grounded in the scene--are a common pitfall.
      Don't get me wrong. There's a time to let the dialogue flow without grounding or even attribution, such as in moments of high intensity when the reader knows the characters and their voices so well that anything more would be extraneous. But for the most part, it's helpful to be able to visualize our characters in a scene. Sometimes a beat is enough: She waved. He clenched his fist.
      Sometimes, by showing a character, say, cook a meal or fix a car, we reveal more about them in a way that informs the story to come.
      What I typically suggest to my students is to physically act out a scene. Literally step into the moment and movement(s). Or to perhaps sketch out a map of the town or bedroom, so that it's easier for them to mentally move their cast around and describe that on the page.

Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?
      Write a scene from the point of view of the antagonist. (This often works best if the antagonist isn't a force of nature or Fate, but it can be surprisingly useful in cases of the latter, too--especially in terms of revealing theme.)

Your new book, Blessed, is the third in a series of paranormal novels that began with Tantalize.  Did you plan all along to write a series featuring these characters? If so, how did that affect your writing of Tantalize and Eternal?

     I had hoped to write a series featuring the characters, if there was enough enthusiasm from readers and my publisher. But early on, I didn't count on it. So, I wrote Tantalize and Eternal the way I felt they needed to be written.
     Were there plot threads I desperately wanted to continue? Yes. Definitely.
     But if that didn't prove possible, I had brought both the internal and external arcs full circle, albeit with not quite as happy of endings as some might expect, given my particular optimistic take on life.
(Readers, if you'd like to read more about Blessed, see this page on Cynthia's website.)

You write a wide range of fiction, from picture books to short stories to young adult novels. Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they might use one of your books in the classroom?
      For the Tantalize series, I would suggest reading the books and discussing them along with the classics to which they pay tribute: Bram Stoker's Dracula, Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," Charles Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery."

Would you share an interesting behind-the-scenes story about one of your novels?
      After selling my first book, Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000), I set to work on what would become my first novel, Rain is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001). It had a previous incarnation, set in Chicago, as a rather horrid thematically clunky manuscript called "Two Wings to Fly," which I'd finally deleted and decided to try again from the ground up (so to speak).
      I often think of myself as a "sense of place" writer, and this time I returned to my roots, setting the book in northeast Kansas where I spent most of my childhood, and drawing on memories of small towns around the greater Kansas City area. One of the three or so places that I drew on in creating the fictional town of Hannesburg, Kansas was my mother's hometown. I didn't use the particular geographic layout, with the exception of city hall, but a fair amount of local voice and flavor proved inspiring. Still, it's a big world, and I'd nodded to German-American towns in Michigan (where I'd attended law school), too. It never occurred to me that anyone would make the connection outside of perhaps my own family.
      I took the manuscript to an SCBWI conference in Illinois, back when the legendary Esther Hershenhorn (now one of the TeachingAuthors) was serving as regional advisor. I don't remember if we read pages or if an excerpt of mine was read. But I do remember another attendee rushing to me and exclaiming, "Is that such-and-such, Missouri? My husband's family lives there. It sounds dead on."
      I was flabbergasted. She was right.

Well, you must have done an exceptional job creating that town in your manuscript, Cynthia. Your readers will be pleased at the way your strong "sense of place" also comes through in the Tantalize series, which is set in Texas. 

Thanks so much for visiting with us today, Cynthia. And congratulations again on the release of Blessed

Readers, I invite you to watch the book's trailer below, and then enter our contest for a chance to win an autographed copy.

Now for the contest Entry Rules: to enter our drawing for an autographed copy of Cynthia Leitich Smith's Blessed:

   1. You must post a comment to today's blog post telling us why you'd like to win a copy of the book. (Will you keep it for yourself or give it as a gift to a young reader?)
   2. You must include contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger, or your email address is not accessible from your online profile, you must provide a valid email address in your comment. Entries without contact information will be disqualified. Note: the TeachingAuthors cannot prevent spammers from accessing email addresses posted within comments, so feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions, such as the [at] and [dot].
   3. You must post your comment by 11 pm (CST) Wednesday, February 2, 2011. (The winner will be announced on Thursday, February 3.) Note: Winners automatically grant us permission to post their names here on our TeachingAuthors website. 
   4. You must have a mailing address in the United States.

For more information on our winner selection/notification process, see our official giveaway guidelines.

Blogosphere Buzz
  • For more on the release of Blessed (including additional opportunities to win copies) check out this post on the Cynsations blog.
  • Many of us in the Kidlitosphere were disappointed when NBC's Today Show failed to interview this year's Newbery and Caldecott winners. I was quoted in a School Library Journal article about the Facebook campaign to get the interviews reinstated. If you're on Facebook, you can participate in the campaign here
  • Are you a picture book writer looking for a way to jump-start your writing? The training has already begun for the 2011 Picture Book Marathon, which starts Feb. 1. You can read about it here. And even if you're not participating in the marathon, check out their companion blog for some picture book-writing inspiration (By the way, they have the coolest logo.)
  • The Amelia Bloomer Project has posted their 2011 list of recommended feminist literature for birth through 18 on their blog, with their "top ten" list posted here.
  • The annual Kidlitosphere Comment Challenge wraps up today. A HUGE thank you to Lee Wind and Pam Coughlan for organizing this terrific event. I found some terrific new blogs to follow. And thank you to all the bloggers who posted here as part of the challenge. We're honored to have the TeachingAuthors logo as part of the Challenge masthead.  

Happy Writing!


Becky Fyfe said...

I have two teenagers who would read the book, and I would probably read it myself. I enjoy reading their books, especially as I write for their age group myself.


Rebecca at Fyfe dot net

Tabitha said...

Great interview!

I got my copy yesterday, so don't enter me in the contest. I just wanted to stop by and say HI to Cynthia! *waves* Congrats on the release of Blessed! It's next on my TBR pile. :)

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for entering, Rebecca.
And thanks for stopping by, Tabitha.

Beth Gallagher said...

Hi to Cynthia! Just wanted to say thanks for posting this article, and I'd love to win a copy for my daughter who LOVES to read1 :)

semayawi dot toadcottage at

Michelle Sussman said...

I would love to win a copy for my 14-year-old niece!!!

pollypoet said...

Please enter me, too. I'd read the book myself first, then either review it in my newspaper column or give it to our public library.

Susan Bearman said...

I've been a long-time follower of Cythia's blog and can't wait to read her latest. Thanks for the contest

Anonymous said...

I think your readers might enjoy this site which is filled with author interviews.

Interview with Children's Author Carolyn Marsden

Take a trip to the beaches of San Diego to meet children's author, Carolyn Marsden.

The award- winning author talks about her books and the art of collaboration and how she learned to write with others. She offers good writing tips for writers both young and old.

MEET ME AT THE CORNER, Virtual FIeld Trips for Kids is a series of free kid-friendly educational video podcasts for children ages 5-13. Each episode comes with a list of recommended books, a list of fun websites and a Learning Corner of questions and extended activities.

ETowns said...

I would love to win a copy of Blessed. I have a couple of young adult women that I frequently meet with. I would allow the book to be passed among them for shared reading. We do this with books at times.

Info: Elizabeth Towns, 59 Governors Place, Columbus, Ohio 43219



This Grind Does Not Stop:

It's Elemental:

Mary Jo said...

Thank you for this interview! I love hearing about "discoveries" at conferences! I am a YA writer and reader and a creative writing teacher for Young Adults, so the book would pass many hands and be well-loved!

Dr. Genevieve Ford said...

I'm a huge fan of Jingle Dancer but haven't read any of her longer prose. I'd love to have a copy to read and then pass on (to my nieces and nephews and my children's literature course students who are preservice teachers!)

trista said...

I am building a YA section in our personal library for our 7 year old daughter to grow into. Thank you for the wonderful blog.

tristamj (at) hotmail (dot) com

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

I want to win Blessed because I love the interview and it sounds like a fascinating book. I want to hear your sense of place. Lupe is our "sense of place" master. I need more help. I want it for myself, but would share with our group and my YA friends.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

I am worthy of Blessed because I want it for ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME...okay, maybe I'll share with the other Pen & Ink members in exchange for a certain member's chocolate chip cookies.
Selfish Shellfish aka Lupe F.

Tiffany Drew said...

I'd like to win because I would love to read it. Also, I pass my books on to my sister, and my daughter and niece might like to read it too. Thank you very much for the chance :)

MotherReader said...

How did Comment Challenge work out for you? Even if you didn't make the five-a-day goal, come by the Finish Line at

Jan Godown Annino said...

Many huzzahs for the arrival of BLESSED!
If fortunate enuf to win this brandnew crisp copy of BLESSED, I will immediately gift it, with others I've toted back from hither & yon, to the alternative public school here, for students who can't function in the public school setting. This is their last-chance school, the last time to pay attention. respect their one & only life & move forward, despite challenges - such as no parents, drug-addicted role models, etc. etc.

I am at
and also
jgaoffice at gmail dot com
It can be mailed to me at
2031 Owenby Drive Tallahassee Fl 32308

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

i would love to win this for myself, i have tantalize but haven't had a chance to read it yet. thank you!!

inthehammockblog at gmail dot com

BJ Schneider said...

I'm in a new critique group, so there are lots of hands to pass the book to. And thanks for the interesting interview.
schneiderbarbara "at" att "dot" net

Juli Caveny said...

I hope that that hottie guardian angel shows up again in Blessed! As an 8th-grade Lit teacher, I try to read everything the students want to read. Eternal is one of my favorite! (Really, that other so-called-newly-turned vamp. girl is sooo whiny! I'm glad Cynthnia's have some spine!) If I were to win the copy, it would immediately be read by me then, handed over to the 1st student on my list waiting to read this book!
(My fingers will stay crossed for the next few days as I await your email!)

Unknown said...

I loved Tantalize and Eternal, and both novels get traction from my students, as well. I know I can't wait to read Blessed, and I'm sure the students will be just as excited about it.

Thanks for the contest!

lkblair [at] gmail [dot] com

Heather T said...

I love Cynthia's writing and have read several of her other books, especially Rain Is Not My Indian Name, and Jingle Dancer. Those two are my favorites. I would certainly read Blessed myself, but then I think I would send it to my cousin who's a bit of reluctant reader. I think this book might get her more excited about reading.
-Heather T.

Amy said...

I am building my personal library, so I would keep it, study it (CLS is a great storyteller!) but it would be for much sharing too. All of the above!

Thanks-- amy[dot]malskeit[at]gmail[dot]com